Fallout 76 is an action RPG developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC on 14th November 2018. The game was announced on 30th May 2018, though many details were kept under wraps until E3 of the same year. The show unleashed many key details about the game, the most important of which was the fact that it would be online only.
Fallout 76 take place before Fallout, which could be considered a prequel, though that would give the story more credit than it deserves. Players starting out in the game begin in Vault 76. Fans of the series will know that each vault was designed for experimentation of some kind; from Vault 13’s faulty water chip to Vault 111’s cryogenics, these tests give motive to the player to venture out into the world. In stark contrast, Vault 76 was control vault to house the best and brightest the US had to offer at the time of its tricentennial anniversary.
Players create a resident of Vault 76, waking up late when the vault opened again twenty five years later on reclamation day. As each player is also a former resident of the vault, it is devoid of any NPCs other than the robotic staff of the facility. The player is tasked with tracking down the Overseer who (like everyone else) departed the vault earlier that day. The story is delivered to the player through pre-recorded tapes for the most part, or more robots should the need arise. The only live humans in these wastes are other players.
Fallout 76 plays much like Fallout 4 with a few changes to allow for its online nature. Players can switch out of the default first person view into an over-the-shoulder camera at any time. The player can use the Vaul-Tec Assisted Targeting System (V.A.T.S) to target enemies easier, but unlike previous Fallout titles, the game does not slow down whilst targeting. New gear can be found regularly in the wild on on the corpses of slain enemies. Should the player find an appropriate workbench, new equipment can be fashioned out of materials. The world is full of junk that can be scrapped for raw ingredients. To stop players from becoming too powerful too quickly, pieces of equipment have their own levels. Higher level enemies will drop more powerful versions of weapons and armour, or they can be crafted by the player should they find the appropriate plans.
Plans are required for crafting anything but the most basic of items in Fallout 76. Some main missions will give plans for essential housing items, but new pieces of equipment require finding or purchasing plans for their construction. Some gear modifications are unlocked by scrapping loot, giving a reason to hoard every drop a player finds should it unlock a better part to equip on a favourite weapon. It is a pity then that inventory space is often limited due to the need for a set of armour and multiple weapons for different enemies.
As mentioned earlier, the construction system from Fallout 4 makes a return, albeit in a cut down fashion. No longer can players build sprawling bases across multiple locations, instead they have a modest area within the Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform (C.A.M.P), a portable device that can hold any unwanted items the player does not wish to carry. In theory the player should be able to move their camp frequently as structures are saved as blueprints for easy redeployment, but in reality the blueprints will not sit properly on the landscape in a new location, and any structures not on foundations when the camp moves are lost. This is quite frustrating when the game removes a players camp for no apparent reason.
Player verses player combat is an option in Fallout 76, should one choose to participate. If the combat is entirely one-sided, then the defending player takes a reduced amount of damage. If the defending player retaliates then damage is returned to normal and the victor gets to steal stuff from the losers dropped junk. Should a player win successive fights they will obtain a bounty on their head that is paid out of their own caps, the Fallout currency.
Leveling up is handled differently in Fallout 76 as well. Each level player will be able to put a point into one of their SPECIAL stats. At various levels players will also receive a pack of perk cards. These are equipped to corresponding stats, but the value of cards cannot exceed the amount of points a player has in that stat. Cards can be swapped out freely at any point allowing players to customise their play style for groups or soloing. Combining the same cards together allows them to rank up, increasing their effectiveness whilst also increasing their cost.
Fallout 76 is running on the same engine as Fallout 4. This means that everything looks similar to the last Fallout title, for better or worse. As the game is set earlier in the timeline, there is more greenery around as plant life has not completely fallen to radiation. This has the benefit of giving the game a wider colour palette, but does limit where objects can be build in the wild. Scenery cannot be removed in building locations in this game. Enemies do tend to blend in with the landscape as well, which can make finding bodies to loot after particularly hectic firefights all the more frustrating.
Fallout 76 has many of the same songs that graced Fallout 4. The setting of the series is a future imagined of by people from the 1950’s, and the latter game got that right. Fallout 76, however, also prominently features music from the 60’s and 70’s, an anachronism given the nature of the setting. One of the more positive aspects of the sound design is that one can tell when enemies are nearby by the sound of their movement. Should the player chose to sneak, humanoid and robotic enemies will voice their annoyance at not being able to find them.
MMOs are never without their bugs, and Fallout 76 is no exception. Aside from the disappearing camp mention above, there have been random disconnects for everyone in a world, and strange graphical glitches that prevent players from entering areas that should otherwise be accessible. In some locations it is even possible to fall through the floor to an untimely demise, losing all the valuable junk the player is carrying at the same time. This is the first time Bethesda have handled an MMO, and it shows. ZeniMax Online Studios has handled Elder Scrolls Online for years, though very little of the knowledge gained from running an MMO has been passed to the other company.
Fallout 76 is not a game that will have a wide appeal outside of fans of the series, but this is not the next game in the series that those fans would want. There is plenty of content to be explored in the game outside of the main quest, but getting there requires grinding the same events multiple times a day and otherwise scavenging for parts when they are not available. Tougher content can be challenged earlier by teaming up with other players, but this may not appeal to those going into the game looking for a single-player experience. Fallout 76 may hit its stride once the bugs have been worked out and a larger variety of content is added to the game, but until then this may be one to pick up cheap or skip entirely.
Title: Fallout 76
Genre: Action role-playing
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 14 November 2018